Kami Ward of Hot Springs, a four-year letter winner for the Arkansas Tech University tennis program, is the 2020 Jeanice Falls Award winner as the most outstanding senior female student-athlete at ATU.
Ward was selected for the honor by the ATU Faculty Athletic Committee. Nominations are made by ATU head coaches based upon student-athletes’ athletic achievement, academic record and community service involvement.
“It’s really satisfying because I know how big of an award this is,” said Ward. “I know the people in the past who have won it, and they were great people and great athletes. To be a part of that group, it really gives me closure for my career at Tech. I’m really satisfied with the way things went this year with everything I am involved in. I’ve always wanted to be involved like I am now, and I’m glad I got to achieve that goal.”
Ward has earned a 3.862 grade point average at ATU while majoring in biology with the biomedical option.
She was named All-GAC first team in 2018 in recognition of her performance for the Golden Suns tennis team under head coach Abby Davis. She and her playing partner, Annabel Rowlands, were ranked seventh in the NCAA Division II Central Region in doubles that season.
Ward demonstrated her acumen in singles play in fall 2019 when she won her flight in the Great American Conference individual championships.
“My team is really special,” said Ward. “It always has been since my freshman year. I grew up in Hot Springs, and the high school I went to didn’t have a lot of diversity. I wasn’t exposed to that. Then, I came to Tech, and I was on a very diverse team with players from all around the world. It opened my eyes and gave me perspective. It has shaped who I am today and a lot of my viewpoints.”
Ward applied that new perspective as president of the ATU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the GAC SAAC. It was a big change for someone who did not see herself as a leader when she began her college career.
“I was a completely different person as a freshman,” said Ward. “You can ask my coach. I was really shy. I didn’t really talk much, and I was really nervous. I never could have imagined I would be receiving this award. I was a completely different person. I was book smart, but when it came to common sense, I was a little off. The reason I’ve grown in college is because I’ve made myself uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable. Don’t shrink up because of that. Know that it is going to help you grow, and you get over the nerves the more time and effort you put into it.”
For Ward, growth has been accompanied by a shift in priorities and goals. She will graduate from ATU with all of the credentials necessary to pursue medical school and a career as a physician, but her community service as a member of the Golden Suns tennis team led her in a new direction.
That community service has included more than 100 volunteer hours at Oakland Heights Elementary School in Russellville, where she and her teammates have taken steps to help children overcome food insecurity.
“I really changed my mind this year because of everything I am involved with,” said Ward. “I realized the medical field might not be for me. I want to help people, but maybe not in the way a physician does. My mom is applying to law school, and she just jokingly said, ‘why don’t you come to law school with me?’ I’d never thought about becoming a lawyer, but I looked into it, and there are a lot of things about having a Juris Doctor degree that would allow me to continue some of the work I’ve done this year and enjoyed so much.”